George Fenn.

Friends I Have Made

Thats better, my dear, she said, smiling at me, as she passed her arm round my waist, and drew me nearer to her, and kissed me in a gentle, motherly way. This was too much, for I was very weak and hysterical. I could fight against harshness, but her tender words and ways unlocked the flood-gates of my grief, and I laid my head down and sobbed as if my heart would break.

An hour later, after she had literally forced me to partake of the breakfast that was ordered up, she sat beside me, holding my hand, and more than once I saw the tears steal down her pleasant face as she won from me, bit by bit, the story of my troubles and my bitter struggles here in town.

At last I rose to go, trembling and expectant. Would she engage me? It was more than I dared to hope.

Sit still, my child, she said, tenderly, and stay with me; we shall be the best of friends.

I stayed stayed to know her real worth and to win her motherly love stayed to find, when John Murray returned, that his love was greater for my sister than for me, and patiently resigned my love to her, and then battled with a long illness when they had gone together to the far-off home. But every day gave me a new lesson on not judging too hastily. That is ten years since; and I am still in my peaceful, happy home, though only as companion to a lady.

Chapter Nine.
My Old Sergeant

I have visited the sick a good deal in my time, and have ever found that a serious illness is one of the greatest softeners of a rugged nature. I have noticed it in workhouse and in hospital as well as in the dreary habitations that are occupied by the poor. Perhaps it is more noticeable in men than in women, and in many cases it has seemed to me to bring forth natures gentility where it has for years, perhaps, been encrusted with rude, rugged ways.

One of my most genuine gentlemen by nature was a quaint old sergeant of dragoons, living in ill-health upon his little pension, and at the wish of some people in the country near our old home, I sought him out, and found him, after some trouble, in one of the little streets of Walworth, and imparted to him my mission, namely, to inquire if he could tell me the whereabouts of one John Morris and his wife, relatives of the farming people who asked me to inquire.

I found the sergeant, a stern, rugged old fellow, in his lodgings, and he looked surlily at me, being, as I afterwards found, in pain, and he saluted me with a harsh Well, maam, whats for you? Im not in the humour for visitors now.

I will not keep you long, I said, and stated my business.

Oh, thats it, is it? he said. I thought you came to preach at me, and tell me what a wicked old man I am. There, bless your heart, I knowed it well enough, none better. John Morris, eh?

Yes, and his wife, do you know where they are?

Dead, maam, dead, both of them: gone to where theres rest and peace, and no more sorrow; where the wicked cease from troubling, and the weary You know the rest.

Know them! Of course. John Morris was in my troop B troop, 20th Dragoon Guards; smart, fresh-coloured, honest Lincolnshire lad a good lad; without any of the general rough ways of a soldier: for theres good sort of fellows among us, as well as the sweepings of towns and villages; and I loved that lad as if hed been my own son. Why? Because he was a thorough soldier, every inch of him. He came to me to list I was recruiting sergeant then. Think twice of it, my lad, I says; ours is a rough life; for from his talk I found hed been having some tiff at home; so think twice of it, my lad, I says: for I did not want to see a fine young fellow throw himself away. And it is that, you know, though it dont sound loyal of me, as an old troop-sergeant-major, to say so; and feeling this though I knew I should make a profit of the young fellow I did not like to see him list, when a rough would have done just as well. But he would do it; he was set upon it; and told me that if I didnt take him, he would join the foot-regiment quartered in the town. So seeing how things stood, and sooner than he should do that, I gave him the shilling, and he entered one of the smartest heavy cavalry regiments in the service.

I always liked him for his frank, honest, open manner, and the way he set to work to learn his duties riding-school, foot-drill, sword-exercise, no matter what it was, he worked at it; learned quietly and cheerfully; and in a wonderfully short time made himself a smart soldier. You never heard him snubbed for dirty belts or rusty accoutrements; everything belonging to him shone like silver or gold; while his horse was groomed till its skin was like satin. The men called him Model Jack; for whenever some one on parade was having it for want of smartness, without pausing for a moment, the captain, or major, would shout, Rein back, John Morris, tell the one in trouble to look at him and his traps, and then order so much punishment-drill.

But we all liked John Morris; and there was not a man in the troop would have said a word against him, or done him an ill turn; for wasnt he always ready to help a mate who was sick, or do a turn for a young beginner? But he was only a weak man, and he must do what no soldier who has any respect for a woman should do he must get in love with a nice pretty little body, who was foolish enough to take a fancy to the fine smart young fellow. Seeing what a superior sort of lass she was, if it had been any other man in the troop, Id have done what I could to stop it; but knowing the lads character no smoker, no drinker; but one who spent all his spare time in the barrack reading-room I couldnt say a word; and so matters went on till we got the route, and were to be shifted from Edinburgh to Hounslow.

Next time I saw John Morris, I knew there was something the matter; and after stable he comes to me, and in a blunt, straightforward way, he says

Sergeant, I want to be married. Will you speak to the officers for me?

No, my lad, I says, I wont.

He started, and looked surprised; for I was gruff; while as a rule I was always as friendly to him as I could be to a private though there wasnt a man in the troop who speaking honestly would tell you I was ever a bully.

Look here, my lad, I says: if you respect that little lass, youll just say good-bye to her kindly, and for good; or else tell her to wait till you can buy yourself out, and go into something civilian.

But he began.

There, hold your tongue, my lad; and just go up to the married mens quarters, and look at the want of common comforts in the accommodation; look at the misery of their life; and then, if youre not satisfied, go and look at the poor women who are not on the strength of the regiment married without leave, you know and see whether youd like to see your little maid brought down to that.

But Ive always done my duty, sergeant, and the colonel would give me leave to be married, and Id do more to make her comfortable than

Major Ellis wants Sergeant Rollin, shouts some one; and, seeing that was me, I jumped up.

But youll ask for me, sergeant? says John Morris, getting hold of my hand as he looked in my face.

Be off with you, sir, to your duty, I roared fiercely; and he went away, and so did I, and, as a matter of course stupidly, as I told myself I spoke to the major, and he said hed speak to the colonel; but it was no use, for there were three more men married than there should have been by rights, and they could not have so many women and children in barracks.

I told Morris afterwards, and he thanked me, and went about his duties till the day for marching came, and then I found out that John had married without leave, and, of course, punishment must follow as soon as it was known. I would not see it; but it was reported by another sergeant, and, as a matter of course, the poor weak lad was placed in arrest. I say wreak; but, there, I dont know the poor things loved one another very dearly; and the official orders, though theyre strong, aint so strong as human nature.

He never grumbled or said anything about his punishment, but bore it all like a man, though he was anxious enough about his little wife, who travelled by parly train as far as their money would go, and walked the rest of the way up to Hounslow. And then there was the regular misery and struggle for the next few years: the poor little lass not being acknowledged by the regiment as one of the soldiers wives and having to lodge out of barracks, and live as best she could upon the beggarly pittance her husband could give her, helped out by what she, poor little thing, with her baby, could earn.

I wasnt going to jump upon a fallen man, but I know John Morris thought deeply upon my words as he saw the smart pleasant-faced little body sinking day by day into a drudge. I never said a word about it to him, nor he to me; but I did what I could to help him, though that wasnt much.

Then came another shift of quarters, and Mary Morris had a hundred and sixty miles to tramp to the next town we were stationed at; but she did it without a murmur, and a few days after we reached our quarters I saw her at the barrack-gate.

We were not there very long, but had to make a fresh start, and this time it was with two little children that Mary Morris tramped after the regiment, to reach her husband nearly a fortnight after we had settled down she looking worn out and haggard with trouble and her long journey. To have seen her now, no one would have known her for the bonnie little lass whom I had seen resting so lovingly upon the lads arm in Edinburgh town. But there, it was the usual lot of a soldiers wife who is not on the strength; and from town to town the poor girl followed us about till the very last; and so long as she could be near her husband I believe the little thing was happy.

I said till the last; for there came a day when I stood at the barrack-gate with tears in my eyes, that I was quite ashamed of, to see John Morris, the fine stalwart dragoon, in full marching order, leaning down from his horse, his gauntlet glove off, holding his little wifes hand tightly clasped, as he gazed into her loving eyes eyes as brimful of tears and affection as were those of the captains sister, leaning out of her carriage-window, and waving her handkerchief to her brother.

Then came the trumpet-calls, and we were off, leaving many a tearful eye behind. But Mary Morris turned up again at the port where we were to embark; for it was only the sea that could stay the faithful little woman from following her husband. But there was the sea now; and we were ordered abroad for ten years, to a country that would be the grave of many of us, as I well knew.

Im not sure, but I think that was Mary Morriss face I saw, all pale and drawn, in one of the boats just pushed off; but it soon faded from sight as the steam-tug drew our great ship down the river; and then, as I turned away, heavy-hearted and dull at leaving the old country, I met the eyes of poor John Morris, when he must have thought of my words before his marriage, for he groaned, and, poor fellow, his head went down upon his arms on the bulwarks, and I could see his great, broad chest heaving as he sobbed and cried like a little child.

Time went on, and up the country we had our work cut out. Im no lover of butchery, but Im a soldier by trade, and always tried to do my duty. More than one battle I had been in, to come out scathless the last time owing to a swinging sabre-cut given to a Sikh who was about to shoot me down, and it was not my hand that gave that sabre-cut, but the hand of John Morris.

Then came another fierce engagement, when, worn out with heat and thirst, the order came to charge. The moment before, the men were drooping and listless; but as the trumpet rang out, eyes lit up, bronzed faces flushed a deeper hue, and we trotted steadily, knee to knee, over the plain, nearing the enemy at every stride. John Morris was on my left, and I could not help smiling to think what a good man and true I had by my side; when the trumpet call again rang out gallop, and on we went until within a hundred yards of the foe, when again came the loud blast; spurs were used, and with a dash like a thunderbolt we were upon them. I recollect the sharp, ringing volley they gave us as we came down, and about the air bearing a strange, shrill cry; after which it was one wild, fierce struggle, till I found myself breathless and faint, trying to free myself from my horse, who was down, pinning me to the ground. A violent drag set me at liberty, just as the poor beast made its last effort to rise, and fell back dead.

I will not sicken you with the scene around me, one that I tried to leave behind; but I had not limped many paces before a faint voice cried after me, Sergeant! and turning, there, raising himself upon his elbow, was poor John Morris, with a look that I shall never forget upon his face. There were plenty of horrors about, but I had eyes only for the poor fellow before me, and kneeling down, I supported his head and tried to stanch his wounds.

No good! no good! he whispered. Im cut to pieces. Done my duty, sergeant, though it was hard work not to desert when I had to leave her. Find her; tell her I was true to the last, and Cowards! he cried.

At the same moment, almost, I started up, but half-a-dozen horsemen were upon me, and I was cut down and knew no more.

It was years after when I saw England again, and tried to find out poor Mary the weak, simple-hearted girl who had been left behind. I tried hard, but for a long time without any result, till one day I met by chance another woman who had been in the same plight.

Can I tell you where she is? she said, yes; come with me and Ill show you.

I hung back for a moment, thinking of the sad news I had to tell; but dutys duty, and I followed the woman from street to street, for quite half an hour, during which time Id made up the words I meant to say, and was ready with my message, meaning, too, to tell poor Mary where she could draw the pay due to her husband. But I never delivered my message, for turning to the woman I said, is it much farther?

No, she said, close here; and Id have been with her, but for the hope that my poor boy would some day come back.

I hung back again, but she took hold of my arm as she stopped by an iron gate, and pointed to a multitude of green mounds, saying

They laid her there, somewhere, two years ago now, but I dont know which was the grave; for poor folks die fast, and people dont put stones up for soldiers wives.

Do you know what she died of? I said, softly, for I was shocked and surprised.

Died of? said the woman bitterly; what I should have died of, only I was too hard died because her husband was dragged away, and her little ones went one after the other: died of a broken heart! a poor, gentle thing, praying that they might meet again.

Yes; that mark was left when the Sikh cut me down, as I held poor John Morriss head; and now if you please, maam, well change the subject, for when I get talking about other peoples sorrows that old wound begins to throb.

Chapter Twelve.
Somebody Dead

Going about the streets of London on errands of mercy, naturally makes one observant of everything that seems in any way connected with trouble or sorrow. If I see a family moving, with all the discomforts of leaving one home for another, I immediately begin to wonder whether it is a voluntary affair or whether it is the result of misfortune. Again, a funeral always takes my attention and I find myself wondering whether the mourners could be helped or comforted by me, and I note whether the dead is young or old by the funeral trappings, and too often see that it is some tender child, though the grief is as great or greater when it is some dear wife or mother, or may be the father the stay of some family.

My friends ought to consider me a doleful miserable person but they do not, and they never think it eccentric of me to take so much interest in houses with the window blinds drawn or shutters up, but rather give me their sympathy and help.

Noticing such matters it will be no cause for surprise that I had often marked the black crape band worn upon the arm of their uniform coats by soldiers and volunteers. The first time then that I saw driver after driver of the omnibuses along a busy line of route with a tiny black crape bow fastened on his whip I naturally became eager to know why this was, or rather who might be the important personage to whom the sign of respect was paid.

I felt as if I could give anything for an hours chat with one of the drivers, but how was it to be obtained? I knew they were for long hours upon the box, and that during the short time they were at home it would be hard work to get either of them to tell me what I wanted, so I set to and pondered.

I dont know that I should have felt any compunction in taking a seat outside an omnibus, though now-a-days it would seem a very out of the way place for a lady in London streets. But I thought that if I could find one going out through the suburbs to some pleasant village it would be no more extraordinary than for a lady to take a seat upon a stage coach for a ride through one of the outlying districts beyond the reach of the rail.

The difficulty was solved, for I thought of the Richmond omnibuses, and making my way to the White Horse Cellar, in Piccadilly, I found no difficulty, for a ladder was placed for me, and I was able to climb to the vacant seat beside the driver, who looked at me askant as if suspicious of me. I saw him give a peculiar look at the conductor, and I smiled to myself as I nestled beneath the great tarpaulin apron, and watched the care with which he guided his two stout well-fed horses through the maze of conveyances, the crape bow like a strange black butterfly seeming to flit to and fro before my eyes.

Nothing to him is the task, as through narrow channels he steers his way, pouncing upon a passenger here, another there; rarely using his whip, never in collision, but stopping short now in obedience to a ting from the conductors bell; started again by the same means; and seeming to have that huge, heavily-laden vehicle, with twenty-eight people in and upon it, as much under control as if he sat a few inches from the ground in a pony-drawn basket carriage, driving in a country road.

But here it was again and again, a crape bow upon whip after whip, and many of those whip handles, and their holders elbows, raised in the well-known salute to my driver, though it seems strange that when drivers salute each other they should always do it in that singular elbowish way, their eyes being all the while carefully inspecting their fellows horses.

Somebody important must be dead for there to be so general a display of mourning, and I soon found out that I was right. Somebody of consequence had passed away.

No one of the Royal Family, surely? No. Not an eminent statesman, or the papers would have recorded the fact. Man of science, philanthropist, preacher, teacher, author, actor, musician? No, none of these. Somebody of importance? Yes; somebody of importance.

To the world?

Yes, to his own little world.

Who might it be then?

An omnibus driver.

But you said a man of importance!

Yes; a man of importance the father of a family, the man whose patient toil produced, Saturday night by Saturday night, the sum of money that should keep respectably his wife and six little ones; the man who had no rest on Sundays; but seven days a week hail, rain, sunshine, or bitter frost goes on his monotonous journeys for fourteen, fifteen, sixteen hours per day, with hardly time allowed him to supply the wants of nature a rough-looking, weather-stained, hoarse-voiced, ignorant man; but a true, faithful husband, a loving father, and a patient toiler the sole prop, stay, support of the weeping ones at home.

A man of importance called away from this busy, competitive, stirring world somebody of importance dead, gainsay it who will.

So I found from my driver, who, after being exceedingly gruff and distant for a time, gradually seemed to thaw, and, as I asked question after question, became quite loquacious, as he made the black crape butterfly flit from side to side in the act of caressing his horses with the whip. I did not see him lash them once; and at last he spoke out as if he had known me for years.

Seems a sort of mark of respect for the poor chap, and we generally do it. Worth nothing, of course, for a kind thought and an honest tear in memory of an old friends worth, to my way of thinking, all the crape and black feathers and velvet palls, and hearses and mourning coaches, in the world. Dont say Im right, maam; and though I talk of tears I dont say that I drop em. I leave that for the women to do, but Ive had a few thoughts about poor Sam, who got off his box come Sunday three weeks dead beat, poor chap.

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